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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture (MET)

遼 三彩羅漢像-Arhat (Luohan) MET DP163966

Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture

This life-size, glazed pottery sculpture of a seated figure represents a Luohan which is a Chinese term for an arhat, one of the historical disciples of the Buddha. As Buddhist tradition developed the most important were regarded as almost bodhisattvas or fully enlightened beings, with a wide range of supernatural powers. The understanding of these Buddhist concepts has changed over the centuries and varies between different schools of Buddhism and different regions

This sculpture of Luohan shows him seated with his right hand on his lap holding a scroll and his left hand is holding his monk’s robes of green and brown. This is one of a set of 8 to 10 life-size Luohans made during the Liao dynasty (907–1125) which were discovered near caves, south of Beijing, in 1912. They reached the international art market and were bought for Western collections. The circumstances of the find, and the details of how the figures and how many of these figures reached the global art market have not been clarified.

The surviving Lohans from this discovery are so individually and uniquely modelled that they are considered as portraits of different eminent monks. The green hair of this figure is a departure from naturalism, as is the openwork base which is intended to suggest a mountain retreat of the ascetic monk. This large glazed ceramic figure extended to Buddhism the tradition of modelling developed for Chinese pottery tomb figures. In the Ming and Qing periods imposing representations of many different deities were made, and their brilliant glazing resembles that of figures decorating temple buildings.

Reflections

  • Would the circumstances of how this sculpture was discovered and made its way to a western museum, make an interesting story?
  • If this statue had not been exported in 1912 would that have survived the upheavals between the world wars and post-war revolutions?

Explore the Asian Art Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture

  • Title:               Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture
  • Date:               907-1125
  • Found:            Yizhou caves, Yi Xian,  Hebei, China
  • Materials:     Lead-glazed stoneware.
  • Culture:         Liao dynasty
  • Dimensions: H: 103 cm; W: 120 kg (Figure) W: 106 kg (Base)
  • Museum:       Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

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“Those who are contented with what they have are often happy.”
– Chinese Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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